Estonian science fiction solutions should take a step further

Nortal HQ

Many of the various e-services and solutions that have been successfully created and implemented in Estonia can be successfully exported to contribute into building a seamless society in other countries, Peeter Smitt, Nortal’s managing director told in an interview with Estonia’s biggest daily newspaper Postimees.

“For the rest of the world, our digital signatures or the operation and actual application potential of the X-Road (the data exchange layer connecting Estonia’s databases) is still science fiction,” Smitt chuckled. He knows this well as on a daily basis he is engaged in disseminating Estonia’s well-established IT solutions to countries in the Middle East. Solutions are much easier to sell, he admits, if you can show that it has been done before in Estonia and it actually works.

Estonia’s tax solutions, the whole X-Road approach and its legal environment, digital IDs, land cadastre, and the commercial register, patent register, public procurement register –  are all are very well established solutions jointly created by local businesses and the state, which can be successfully exported to other parts of the world.

Although Estonia has come a long way in automating bureaucracy, Smitt believes things could be taken further. This further progress, however, would require actual changes in the bureaucracy and public policy.

According to Moore’s law, computing power doubles every 18 months and this cycle also dictates the development speed of e-services and e-issues, enabling new and more complex services. At such a pace, new developments are a constant necessity and those who take a break fall out of competition.

Striking new ideas can come from anywhere, and the state could indeed innovate itself; at least as long as it can keep innovative people on the payroll. Alternatively, businesses could provide the ideas and the government’s role could be to listen and to learn. Either way, the party placing the orders should have an innovative mind-set – and so should the government.

One thing we could be pioneering is an inverted approach to data protection. What if we loosened the grip on personal data and just sanctioned the violators? Instead of locking everything up so that nobody could violate anything,” proposed Smitt.

At issue here are the IT solutions that could predict if you need a service and can often quite accurately guess the type of service you need. There are already some examples of such solutions.

We should move beyond traditional bureaucracy, it’s time for next-generation services. Give everyone access to data and you will get a new level of services to improve the well-being of citizens,” said Smitt.

Estonia just needs to strike a balance between what data people are prepared to share, what they get in return, and what the sanctions are, if someone puts data to a wrong use.